Modern Cape Malay Cooking by Cariema Isaacs is subtitled ‘comfort food inspired by my Cape Malay heritage’.

So much of what being a South Africa means is tied up in food. We are all defined by our love for biltong, braaivleis, Mrs Balls chutney, milk tart and whether you prefer the twisted, syrupy koeksisters or the original, coconut bedecked koe’sisters.

Food critics frequently bemoan the fact that there are few restaurants which celebrate South African food heritage. French cuisine has an identity, Italian food has an identity and a defined regionality and so do many other nations. But South Africa is a genuine melting pot, taking its inspiration from Africa, Malaysia and Indonesia as well as different places in Europe and the United Kingdom.

Successful cookbook author Cariema Isaacs takes her cues from her Cape Malay heritage and says the love language of her community is food. She says tramakasie (thank you) every day she gets to express herself through food. That’s when she’s not juggling the demands of her popular blog, her day job working for a multinational company based in Dubai and life with her husband, Turhaan Samoedien, and two sons, Tawfeeq and Tashreeq. But this International Centre for Culinary Arts trained chef is most inspired by the constantly morphing world of food.

Her first book, published in 2016, was Cooking for My Father in My Cape Malay Kitchen, an homage to her father, rich and redolent with memories of her childhood in the Bo-Kaap quarter in Cape Town. It was followed in 2019 by Spice Odyssey that was recognised with a nomination in the Gourmand Culinary Awards in 2020. And her insatiable love of curries inspired her to pen her third book, Curried in 2021.

In her fourth and latest book, Modern Cape Malay Cooking, Isaacs updates the genre which has its roots and origins from thousands of miles away in the East, in modern day Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s a contemporary take on feasting, food and even simple home cooking.

Although Cape Malay recipes and cuisine has held fast against the vagaries of fashion through the centuries, it’s not immune to global influence – or a desire to incorporate more modern ingredients. Isaacs’ new book documents how there’s a fusion between the modern ways and the old. This is especially thanks to the Cape Malay millennial generation that craves popular dishes from the East and West. There’s no reason a quick stir-fry or a comforting pasta can’t incorporate a Cape Malay twist, Isaac believes. And that means she makes it spicy, she makes it saucy and is adamant that it must be packed with flavour!

In Modern Cape Malay Cooking, Isaacs shares the recipes and influences that have inspired these modern dishes, with simple ingredients and vibrant aromatics for any cook who is curious and courageous enough to explore and create flavour.

There is everything from the fundamentals of Cape Malay-inspired cuisine; comforting Cape Malay breakfast meals and sweet indulgences, sizzling smoortjies, meals to suit the palate and pocket as well as traditional comfort food with a contemporary twist. Isaacs even includes instant pot and air fryer recipes!

Expect to find recipes for everything from denningvleis to Isaacs’ take on nachos or bao buns. There is also a handy segment on condiments as well as refreshing non-alcoholic thirst quenchers.


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Modern Cape Malay Cooking

Cariema isaacs




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My Instant Pot Biryani

Once I got this recipe down to a T, I realised that I would not want to make biryani and even akni any other way! The potatoes are like little cloud puffs, tender and fluffy and the meat falls off the bone – a result of pressure cooking. This recipe doesn’t even require you to marinate the meat overnight because the flavour permeates throughout all the ingredients, including the meat.

Serves 6–8 | Preparation time 30 minutes | Cooking time 1 hour 15 minutes



1 C (250 ml) plain yoghurt, buttermilk or amasi

2 Tbsp (30 ml) garlic and ginger paste

2 Tbsp (30 ml) biryani masala

1 Tbsp (15 ml) garam masala

1 tsp (5 m) Kashmiri chilli powder or Pakco roasted masala

½ tsp (2.5 ml) turmeric

1 Tbsp (15 ml) ground cumin

½ tsp (2.5 ml) saffron threads

2 tsp (10 ml) salt

1 ripe tomato, skinned and grated

1 fresh green chilli, split lengthwise


700 g shoulder or leg of lamb portions, bone in

½ C (125 ml) canola or vegetable oil

3 potatoes, peeled and halved or quartered, patted dry with a kitchen towel

3 onions, thinly sliced

2 cardamom pods, slightly bruised

2 cinnamon sticks

2 bay leaves

3½ C (875 ml) water

2 C (500 ml) basmati rice, rinsed until the water runs clear, drained

½ C (125 ml) brown lentils, cooked in

2 C (500 ml) water for 10 minutes, rinsed and drained, or canned lentils, rinsed and drained

Salt to taste

50 g butter

4–6 hard-boiled eggs

10 strands saffron threads, soaked in

2 Tbsp (30 ml) warm water



Low-sugar Acai Bowl 

Serves 4 | Preparation time 15 minutes | Setting time none



1 frozen banana, sliced

½ C (125 ml) frozen strawberries or raspberries

1 Tbsp (15 ml) acai berry powder

3 Tbsp (45 ml) almond or coconut milk

1 Tbsp (15 ml) protein powder of your choice

1 tsp (5 ml) cacao nibs or cocoa powder (optional)

1 Tbsp (15 ml) natural peanut or almond butter (optional)

1 Tbsp (15 ml) chia seeds


Top with fresh summer fruit, slices of seedless watermelon or sweet melon, or Asian fruit such as dragon fruit or star fruit

1. Place all the base ingredients into a blender.

2. Pulse until smooth. Don’t over blend as you want to avoid a watery mixture – it must be thick enough to eat with a spoon.

3. Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the toppings of your choice.

 Cariema’s Tip

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth and it’s one of the reasons I love this low-sugar acai bowl. It’s perfect for when you want to control your sugar intake and is so refreshing in summer with a topping of sliced or shaped fruit – just don't overdo it as the fruit will increase the sugar.

Malaysian Butter Biscuits with a White Chocolate and Pistachio Topping

Makes 90 | Preparation time 30 minutes | Baking time 12 minutes


200 g unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ C (125 ml) castor sugar

2 tsp (10 ml) vanilla essence

¼ C (60 ml) rolled oats, roughly chopped in a food processor

Pinch of salt

3/4 C (200 ml) self-raising wheat flour , sifted

11/4 C (310 ml) cake wheat flour , sifted

1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) baking powder

150 g white chocolate, chopped and melted

1 C (250 ml) pistachio slivers, lightly roasted in the oven or on the stovetop

Gold leaf or gold dust (optional)


These biscuits are unique in that they contain rolled oats. It’s a recipe that Rita Zahara’s mom customised for Eid and it’s featured in Rita’s cookbook Malay Heritage Cooking. She vows that this has become a staple at Eid in their home and, suffice to say, it’s found its rightful place on my Eid table too.